Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Falls, Geysers and Lagoons: The Wet and Weird Wonderland of Iceland

Destination:  Iceland
Number of Days Spent:  1 day
Where we stayed:  RCI's Jewel of the Seas
Best restaurant:   There was no time for eating!  Well, we did stop for a hot dog...apparently they are famous in Iceland.  We weren't too impressed but we weren't expecting too much...  After all, a friend of ours bought it from a gas station because we didn't have enough time to get over to Bill Clinton's stand. 
Best of:  Stunning scenery & a soak in Iceland's famous geothermal waters!
Worst of:    Hmmm, well could it be the elderly ladies & gentlemen putting it all out for the world to see while walking to the showers before stepping into the lagoon?  Yes, I think so.  No one needs to see that.  Cover up with a towel please :-)  Just my personal opinion which I realize will go against all of our European friends'.  That's fine, to each his/her own, but seriously, Iceland has enough cracks already.
Most Memorable:  Soaking in the blue lagoon with with our facial masks & an all natural waterfall massage.  Does life get any better? 

Useful Tip:   Rent a car & explore!  We split a car rental with another couple for a pricey $150 ($75 per couple) and had a terrific day.  It was cheaper than taking a tour or getting in a taxi and we were able explore on our own.  We were able to see the Blue Lagoon and most of the Golden Circle, something that is not possible from the ship's tours and best of all we did it at our own waiting for anyone else. 
Located in the icy cold North Atlantic waters, Iceland represents the farthermost point north we will travel on this journey, somewhere around the same latitude as Denali National Park in Alaska or as far north as Ushuaia, Argentina is south.  Despite its geographical location, Iceland enjoys moderate climates thanks to a favorable Jet Stream and all the Geothermal activity that the island is famed for.  The high concentration of volcanoes heat the water beneath the earth's surface creating steam which in turn creates electricity. 
One such geothermal plant has created a spa known as The Blue Lagoon and turned it into one of the biggest tourist attractions in Iceland.  It may sound a little strange soaking in waste water from a power plant, but the waters contain nutrients that leave the skin feelings nice and smooth.  The water is even believed to help patients with psoriasis.  The jury may still be out on the last statement, but we felt rejuvenated and the spa itself is top notch...aside from the afore mentioned free swinging Europeans letting it all hang out in the shower rooms.     

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After soaking for a bit, we climbed out and headed out to what is dubbed the Golden Circle.  Iceland boasts one of the most diverse and unique landscapes on the planet.  Serrated and jagged lava flows contrast with lush green rolling hills.  Oceans and rivers glimmer from the sun beneath the clear blue skies.   It's also one of the few places on earth where you can see the results of tectonic action.   In Þingvellir National Park (stop #1 on the Golden Circle), a massive crack in the ground (not to be confused with the "cracks" observed at the Blue Lagoon) represents where the North American plate meets the European plate.  The topography here is so diverse that it's no wander that the Icelanders feel there may be other creatures lurking in the depths of the earth.  Hence trolls are born supplying tourists with countless knickknacks and boosting the local economy at the same time. 
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Introduced by the Vikings, horses are not native to the island, but have adapted to the harsh environment growing much shorter than their cousins living in warmer climates. 
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With all that water boiling just below the surface, it's no wander that Iceland was bound to have a few geysers.  The most famous of which is called Strokkur ("churn" in Icelandic) and stop #2 on the Golden Circle.  Basically the water boils beneath the surface and as the steam rises, more water is allowed to reach a boiling temperature which creates more steam which eventually reaches the surface releasing the steam and any water that remained above the steam.  The whole process takes between 4-8 minutes to repeat in the case of this geyser.
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Our last stop of the day, and the last stop on the Golden Circle, was the Gullfoss Waterfall (Golden Falls).  Gullfoss may not be the tallest, widest or largest waterfall, but it's unique shape makes it a picturesque one.  Just before the start of the falls, the river makes one last curve to the left.  Then it makes a short drop to the right before taking the final and greatest plunge back to the left again into a deep ravine that runs at a 90 degree angle to the falls.  The total drop is about 210 feet (64 meters).    
Running short on time, we high tailed it back to Reykjavik.  Even though we had a few minutes to spare, we didn't want to chance missing the's a long swim to Boston, MA!
To see more photos from beautiful Iceland click here!

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